Sunday, June 12, 2011

Focusing on informal, social board learning

I've had this Slideshare presentation (posted by an admired learning leader, Charles Jennings) bookmarked for awhile now, pondering how what he shared might connect to my ongoing focus (or is that evangelism?) on our need to expand our definition of board learning.
8 Reasons to Focus on Informal & Social Learning 

Rather than try to summon a fully-formed, coherent thesis within the confines of one lowly blog post, I think I'll highlight some of the points that attract me most. 
  • Slide 7: Charles offers a series of descriptors for how one learns best. Where your responses split between the two columns can offer a quick (and very basic) snapshot of your individual learning preferences. If your board were to take this simple test, where would their individual responses fall? Does the structure of your board meetings and other learning events reflect their collective needs? Slide 8 offers an equally simplistic overview of markers to help with the evaluation.
  • Slide 15: The centerpiece of this slide is this quote: "In an information-rich world we all need to be continual learners." The subtitle affirms what we already know - we can't wring our hands and wait breathlessly for the next training event to help us out of a bind or provide us with the information and context needed to be the leaders we need to be. What does an "information-rich" world look like for your nonprofit board? How are you working to facilitate it?
  • Slide 26: The 70:20:10 model - 70 percent of what we learn is through experience, 20 percent is learned through others, and 10 percent is learned through structured courses and programs. Would this surprise your board? What would change if we acted as if we understood this? I'm not interested in using this as evidence we should abandon formal board development completely. It has a role - just not the dominant role that we assign to it.
  • Slide 28: The quote by social learning icon Jerome Bruner - "What is the difference between learning physics and being a physicist?" - compels. What is that critical point when one learns to be a board member? To embrace the leadership roles and enact them? To do more than show up at board meetings, opening the packet as you sit down at the table? The more I immerse myself in governance - practice and study - the more convinced I am that the real issue is a sociocultural one (Oh, my. That's a post that definitely needs to be written.).
  • Slide 45: Charles offers three points for "embedding" informal learning: (1) "Changing mindsets about how learning occurs," (2) "Engaging senior leaders to support change," and (3) "Realigning L&D (learning and development) to better support informal learning." Numbers two and three are process/structure factors that, while not necessarily easy for everyone, are at least straightforward. Number one - changing mindsets - will be the big challenge, including the board setting. We tend to come from backgrounds and experiences where "learning" automatically translates into "school," "training," or some other formal process. Even when we can account for all the ways those experiences might have fallen short for us as learners, it's natural to still cling to the notion that learning involves some version of teaching and taught, student and instructor. Learning that occurs in other ways is harder to see and, hence, harder to value.
As I said when I started this post, if I did have the capacity to fully flesh out a deep response to what Charles has shared, it would require far more than a lowly blog post. Instead, I'll share these brief reactions and welcome reader feedback on them, or any other part of the presentation that resonates for you.
View more Slideshare presentations from Charles Jennings

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